Politics, culture meet in Philippine Christmas tradition

Politics and culture share the stage in one of the Philippines' Christmas traditions — the annual University of the Philippines Christmas lantern para

Dec 16, 2015

MANILA: Politics and culture share the stage in one of the Philippines' Christmas traditions — the annual University of the Philippines Christmas lantern parade.

Every year, students from the university's different colleges vie for the best lantern that carries the most meaningful message.

Rizza Valenzuela, an 18-year old fine arts student, was all anticipation as she waited to see her college's lantern during this year's parade on Dec. 14. Valenzuela helped put the final touches to the lantern.

The university community's expectations is that the College of Fine Arts will produce the best lantern, she said. 

"Today, we will remind them of the past," said Valenzuela of her college's lantern depicting classic Filipino movies.

Valenzuela said the event showcases "how we celebrate Christ's birth with our creativity."

"Instead of making simple lanterns, we combine our culture and creativity to demonstrate our faith," she said.

A celebration of culture
Fine arts professor Joey Tanedo said students decided to create lanterns this year to promote movies with "high cultural and spiritual value."

"We want to remind students that we are a nation of great minds," Tanedo said. 

Among the lanterns that caught the attention of people during this year's parade were a battle tank and another that showed a tribal couple with a spear pointed at an eagle.

The tank lantern had "Never Again to Martial Law" painted on its side to remind people of the 20 years of military rule in the 1970s and the 1980s.

International studies professor Sarah Raymundo said Filipinos traditionally use events like Christmas to express their sentiments and ideas. 

"We always have that feeling of being socially responsible," said Raymundo. "We put social and political icons even on our lantern designs."

This year's lantern parade carries the theme lingas or flame supposedly to express the "flames of emotions toward our country's current situation," Raymundo said.

Show of Filipino unity
Participants in the annual parade also include other religious groups.

"It is not only a showcase of Catholic faith," said Raymundo. "The parade also signifies unity among Filipinos."

"I think the lantern parade shows how all Filipinos unite on a single advocacy, that is, the pursuit of social betterment," she said.

"Christmas is not exclusive for Catholics. We all want change, and the annual lantern parade is a reminder for each one of us to achieve change, we must continue struggling for it," she said.

A celebration through the years
The first lantern parade in 1922 was inspired by the Filipinos' practice of carrying lanterns to light the way to attend the Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster, the traditional nine-day dawn Masses before Christmas Day.

The celebration was institutionalized in 1934. It was interrupted by World War II and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1941 but resumed in 1949. 

The parade has become a showcase for students of their camaraderie and solidarity that are expressed through oversized and colorful lanterns. 

In the 1960s, the event became a venue for pageants with the winner being crowned the Lantern Queen.

During the dark years of martial law, the lantern parade became an opportunity for protests.

Icon for Philippine Christmas
The lantern, or parol in Tagalog, has become an icon of Philippine Christmas as the Christmas tree is to other Christian countries.

"Christmas starts when Filipinos start displaying lanterns in the streets and inside homes," said Tanedo.

In most Filipino homes, a parol usually hangs on a doorway or window and is only taken down after the feast of the Three Kings in January.

The Philippines, known to have the longest Christmas season, starts putting up Christmas decorations and playing Christmas carols as early as September.--Ucannews.com

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